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What is Involved in Burning Fossil Fuels?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Burning fossil fuels is the most common way humans have to produce mechanical energy. Despite the health and environmental concerns surrounding the practice, fossil fuels, in the form of coal and oil, remain the most common method of generating energy. The reason for this is simple. Burning fossil fuels is a cheap and reliable method of producing energy, and the vast infrastructure needed to do so is already in place.

Before burning fossil fuels, the fuel must first be collected. This process in itself has drawn some criticism, especially from environmental groups. The coal mining process can strip bare the sides of mountains. Further, drilling for oil also poses environmental risks, especially when it comes to the possibility of spills at sea, which can be massive, and have deadly consequences for many types of wildlife.

Next, after collection is done, the fossil fuels often need to be processed in order to burn properly in the intended equipment. For example, oil often goes to a gasoline refinery, where it can be made into fuel intended to be used in cars. Only after it is refined is it considered suitable for use in vehicles. Diesel fuel requires less refinement, but still must be refined in order to be used in most automobiles or machinery.

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Coal is often transported to power plants, where it can be burned in large incinerators, which use the heat to power turbines. These turbines then generate electricity through electromagnets. The electricity can then be put out on the power grid for distribution. As with any energy conversion, some of that energy will be lost, but these losses are deemed acceptable, given the cost advantage found in burning fossil fuels compared to many other types of fuel.

Despite the criticisms, there are some advantages to burning fossil fuels. In addition to the cost advantage, the availability of fossil fuels is still very high. Also, most of the world's machines are designed to burn fossil fuels, whether this is in a personal automobile or a large power plant. While a shift will need to happen eventually, doing it gradually can be much less expensive than trying to do it all at once.

These advantages do not come without some disadvantages as well. Many are very concerned with how these fossil fuels, especially through carbon emissions, affect the environment. Carbon dioxide has increase from less than 280 parts per million (PPM) before the industrial revolution to more than 330 PPM at the beginning of the 21st century. Also, fossil fuels are considered a non-renewable resource and once they are depleted, they will not return quickly. Therefore, alternatives will need to be considered at some point.

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irontoenail
Post 3

@Ana1234 - I think that's a good idea, because we will never be able to force people to change all existing infrastructure to use alternative power sources. But it really seems ludicrous that we are still building new infrastructure based around the same thing.

I'd actually rather we had more nuclear power than this reliance on fossil fuels. But that isn't the only alternative available.

Ana1234
Post 2

@pleonasm - Burning fossil fuels is difficult to change because it requires changing so many other things. And it is happening, it just isn't happening quickly.

I actually think that there are other solutions that could help in the meanwhile. Rather than trying to get entire countries to spend billions of dollars on changing the way they generate energy, more work could be done on cleaning up current fossil fuel use. I've heard of methods like using plants and algae in pipes to take carbon out of the air from factories and other ideas like that.

pleonasm
Post 1

There has been a lot of press lately about alternative means of generating power. I particularly like the idea of replacing ordinary roads with solar power generating roads.

I know that climate change is still considered controversial, but I don't see why fossil fuels are controversial at this point. They should be seen as universally undesirable as a fuel source. If you've ever been to a city like Beijing and seen the damage they do to the air, you would realize this is an immediate problem.

And the dumb thing is, we have immediate solutions. Plenty of options for renewable fuels. People just haven't done anything to change yet.

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